Natale in Toscana

Natale in Toscana

Sparkling sunbursts from overhead icicle lights spread a golden glow throughout the chilly pedestrian alleys that lead to Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Shoppers in slim-fitting coats and high heel boots crisscross the stone square with oversized bags from pastry shops and gift stores. Elaborate presepi, or nativity scenes, with handmade figurines of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph are featured in the window dressings. The mood is set: It’s Christmas in Tuscany.

Unlike New York, Paris or even nearby Rome, Natale in Toscana is its own distinct affair. More than anywhere else, the focus is on elegance, finesse and understated celebration. Overt commercialism is ratcheted down and quality time shared with family and friends is the holiday decree. Much of the Christmas season, spanning from December 24 (or the vigilia di natale) to January 6 (the popular Befana celebration that marks the Epiphany), is spent around the dining room table. More important than gifts, decorations or caroling are the dishes prepared—many based on recipes handed down throughout the generations—that bind individual families to their beautiful Tuscan territory.

Wine Enthusiast Magazine gained a special sneak peek into the intimate holiday traditions of four prominent Tuscan wine families: the Antinoris, the Folonaris, the Frescobaldis and the Mazzeis. Each was asked to prepare a dish representing one course in a classic Tuscan Christmas menu and to pair that dish with an estate wine of their choice.

The Folonari's

of Ruffino, the Tuscan wine brand founded in 1877 and recognized around the world.

“Wine is central to Christmas and Tuscan wine is at the forefront. We start dinner toasting with a glass of delicious Prosecco and continue to our estate’s red wines and Riservas. After the long meal, we enjoy dessert with our traditional Vin Santo del Chianti. The kids always enjoy all the courses as well as a few drops of wine in their full glasses of water. The night continues in front of the fireplace and a good glass of grappa is always appreciated. When we have had more than one glass, we ask my mom to sing opera from our favorite composer, Puccini, and she is great!” —ADOLFO FOLONARI



The Frescobaldis

of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, a noble Tuscan family making wine for more than 700 years.

“The season lasts from Christmas Eve to the Befana and we normally travel or go skiing. The Befana is a very exciting time for the kids because tradition says that an old good witch will visit in the night. She leaves small gifts for the children that have behaved well. But if a child has not behaved, he or she receives black coals instead.” —TIZIANA FRESCOBALDI


The Mazzeis

of Marchesi Mazzei, a historic wine company with properties in Chianti Classico, Maremma and Sicily.

“We use both a Christmas tree and the presepe. The tree represents a more rational side of the holidays and Babbo Natale (Santa Claus). The presepe represents the religious side and the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Day, we go to mass and then reunite with the whole family, grandparents, children and grandchildren for lunch and an exchange of gifts.” —FRANCESCO MAZZEI

The Antinoris

of Marchesi Antinori, a Tuscan wine dynasty that traces its enological roots back to 1385.

“Christmas in Tuscany embodies Renaissance ideals. Rome is already more Baroque with big piazza celebrations and more fanfare overall. The Tuscan personality, on the other hand, never wants to appear over the top. It values restraint, elegance and temperance.” —ALLEGRA ANTINORI

For Tuscan Christmas recipes from these families, click here.

Published on November 18, 2011